1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

John Aikin, in Letters to a Young Lady (1806) 226-27.



The School-mistress of SHENSTONE is accounted the happiest effort of that writer, who is distinguished rather for elegance of sentiment than for high poetic powers. He has here, however, presented us with a work of great excellence; for a performance which was never read without pleasure and interest, and was never forgotten by any reader, well deserves that title. It somewhat resembles Gay's pastorals in exactness of delineation, and the mixture of the comic with the tender; but Shenstone is more seriously pathetic than that writer. Nothing can be more natural than the portrait of the good dame with all the little accompaniments of her dwelling and garden. The incident of the poor little boy under correction is at the same time humorous and touching; and hard must be the heart which is not moved to sympathy when, "His little sister doth his peril see." The children sporting on the green, and the tempting dainties "galling full sore th' unmoney'd wight," are circumstances of much simple beauty. Trivial as is the topic of the piece, I know few poems which display more good sense or a more benevolent heart. It is one of those which leave impressions not only pleasing, but meliorating. From the time I first read it, the view of children at play has excited in me sensations of tender pleasure that I can scarcely describe; and I seldom fail mentally to repeat, "Heaven shield their short-lived pastimes! I implore."

Farewell!